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How to make money playing with Legos

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Timeless. A design classic. The best thing to come out of Denmark since bacon. Lego is many things, but cheap is not one of them.

With current pricing around ten to fifteen cents per brick, if you're one of the millions to have amassed a significant collection of Lego, you've doubtlessly made a serious investment into what amounts to a big pile of plastic. Fear not: if you’re talented, patient, and a bit lucky, there’s a way to turn your Lego bricks -- or rather, your Lego creations -- into cash.

It’s called Lego Cuusoo, derived from the Japanese word for “wish.” Think of it as Kickstarter, but for Lego. Brickstarter, maybe. Pick your favorite Lego model (all your own work, naturally), submit it to the Cuusoo web site with a few pictures and a description, and wait. Other Cuusoo users will see it (probably), like it (possibly), and click a big “Support it” button next to it (hopefully). Gather 10,000 supporters and your project goes on to the next stage.

As luck would have it, hitting that magic 10,000 mark isn’t too difficult -- provided you have a good concept, a ready-made fanbase, and a good eye for social marketing. A recent set based on the BBC television show “Sherlock” hit the mark in less than three weeks, for instance. Pleasing the public is easy.

Pleasing Lego’s official review team isn’t such a cakewalk, though. Once your project has enough supporters, it’ll receive an official review from Lego, concentrating on its business potential, its fit for Lego’s brand, and the quality of the model’s design. If successful, your creation will be put into production at a future date, and you’ll receive 1% of the net sales.

Odds are, of course, you won’t get that far. Of the three projects picked for the most recent review, only one -- a model of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover -- was approved for production. Another, based on the awesome Portal video games, received a “maybe.” A third, a huge model of a Jawa Sandcrawler from “Star Wars,” was shot down altogether.

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Lego Minecraft was a big Cuusoo hit (Credit: Mojang)

So far only four projects have made it to full production: an incredible “Back to the Future” DeLorean Time Machine, a submarine, an asteroid explorer, and Minecraft Micro World, the project’s biggest hit thus far. A cunning creation based on the characters, landscape, and “creeps” of hit video game Minecraft, it was built by Minecraft makers Mojang and enjoyed an initial production run of about 10,000 sets. It sold out almost immediately.

Mojang’s cut of the first flurry of sales probably amounted to about $3,500, and the set is still on sale and in high demand. Mojang donated its cut to charity, but you don’t have to do the same. Though it would be pretty cool of you.

Now all you need is an idea, right? Current hit proposals include sets based on “The Goonies,” classical Japanese architecture, birds of the world, and the Apple Store. In short, pretty much anything goes, as long as it’s not too adult or potentially offensive. Here are some pointers that’ll improve your chances of making the cut.

-- Dont get fancy. Nonstandard blocks, unsanctioned building techniques, and over-complexity can get your model nixed. Remember, Lego has to turn your model into something they can easily reproduce -- and something that Lego fans can make themselves.

-- Keep it family friendly. Lego is just a toy, after all. Famously, an incredible model based on the Winchester pub from tongue-in-cheek zombie flick “Shaun of the Dead” was rejected thanks to its R-rated subject matter. It might be the best set in the world, but if it doesn’t fit Lego’s brand image, it'll never be approved.

-- Careful with licenses. Using a well-known property makes it easy to gather supporters, but can make it impossible for Lego to sell a set at all. Just ask the creators of this spectacular Jurassic Park set: great theme, awesome craftsmanship, plenty of support, but Lego's rival Hasbro owns the rights to toys based on that series. In other words, it’s a non-starter.

-- Tell your story. Put some time into your model's descriptive text. Where did your idea come from? What makes your model cool or unique? Why will it be a success? Read through the descriptions of successful models to get some ideas, and don't forget to check out the official comments left by Lego, too.

-- Don't give up. Many successful Cuusoo ideas have had slow starts. Once you gain a critical mass of supporters you'll snowball quickly. And if not? You can always try again.

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